York9 FC’s recent signing of attacking midfielder Julian Altobelli speaks to the power of social media.
A 17-year-old native of Vaughan, Ont., Altobelli made history last month when he became the youngest-ever signing by Y9, one of several off-season moves made by club managing consultant Angus McNab.
Altobelli played for local teams in Vaughan and Woodbridge before joining the Toronto FC Academy when he was 11, and most recently featured for the academy’s under-19 side.
Feeling as though he was spinning his wheels within the TFC system, Altobelli posted a video to his Instagram account that eventually led to him coming to the Canadian Premier League.
“A buddy of mine who I used to play with at TFC Academy made a highlight-reel video for me, and it was really good, so I put it on my Instagram. My agent that I (ended up signing) with replied to it, and I spoke to him. We got on a call together and he asked me what I thought about York9, and he told me that I was on Angus’ radar. So, we got more into the conversation, and it just went on from there,” Altobelli told CanPL.ca.
McNab believes the signing of Altobelli was a major coup for the club and the CPL, describing Altobelli as a player who “has the ability to see the entire field” and is more of “a European-type attacking midfielder.”
“He was with the TFC Academy, and he’s chosen to sign his first pro contract with us instead of staying (with the MLS side), so it’s a big one, and another big moment for the league. … We were able to convince him that the CPL is the right place for him to develop his career,” McNab told CanPL.ca.
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Expecting to graduate from high school at the end of this month, Altobelli was blown away by the fact that Y9 had been tracking him.
“I didn’t expect it at all, to be honest. I was in shock when I heard, and happy that people are hearing about me and interested in me,” Altobelli said.
That might sound like modesty coming from the youngster who lives just 10 minutes away from York Lions Stadium. But he maintains Y9’s interest caught him off-guard, especially considering how he felt stuck in a rut at TFC Academy and hadn’t graduated to the TFC 2 farm team after being in the organization for so long. That’s a big reason why he decided to leave TFC and sign with York9.
“I just felt that TFC wasn’t the right place for me. I wasn’t being pushed there. I thought I needed to take that next step for me to improve as a player; I wanted to be pushed to a higher level, so I thought York 9 was the best fit for me,” Altobelli explained.
“I don’t think I had enough opportunities (at TFC). I felt that I should have made that next step to TFC 2 earlier, and it wasn’t coming, so it was best for me to leave.”
Despite what he felt were a lack of opportunities, Altobelli harbours no ill feelings towards the MLS club.
“My time there helped me mature as an athlete. You’re in a professional environment , you see the first-team members every day and you’re learning from top coaches. I’m very thankful for my time there,” Altobelli said.
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The Y9 rookie also featured prominently for Canada at the 2019 Concacaf U-17 Championship, helping the Reds reach the semifinals and qualify for the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Altobelli made one appearance at last year’s U-17 World Cup in Brazil as Canada bowed out in the group stage.
“Those were probably the two best experiences of my life. It was incredible. … I learned that playing quick and playing with your head is the most important thing. You have to be fast on the ball because you’re playing against the best players in the world, so you have to be smart in everything you do,” Altobelli offered.
Citing Juventus Paulo Dybala and Kevin De Bruyne as his favourite players, Altobelli describes himself as “quick on the dribble,” and someone who has a good eye for picking out teammates who are making runs off the ball.
“I can make decisions quickly, take players one, dribbling, distributing – That’s mostly my game,” Altobelli said.
Just like in the league’s inaugural season, CPL teams are required to have at least three young Canadian players (under-21s) on their roster combine for at least 1,000 minutes played this season – although, whether that total will be pro-rated for a potentially shortened campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic remains to be seen.
Altobelli is the third under-21 player signed by York9 this off-season, following fellow Canadians Max Ferrari and Ijah Halley.
“That rule is going to help me a lot in getting playing time, and getting more exposure and learning. But I have to make the most of the minutes I get,” Altobelli offered.